Tag Archives: Composer

Jew of the Week: Hans Zimmer

Your Favourite Film Music

Hans Zimmer

Hans Florian Zimmer (b. 1957) was born in Frankfurt, then part of West Germany. His father passed away when he was a child, and he was raised by his musician mother, who had fled Germany to England upon the outbreak of World War II. Zimmer began playing keyboards as a teen, and joined the Buggles in the late 70s (famous for their hit “Video Killed the Radio Star”, in which Zimmer makes an appearance). He continued to work with various European bands for the next decade. Meanwhile, he did some work on the side writing jingles for commercials. Soon, he teamed up with Stanley Myers to found a new recording studio in London called Lillie Yard. The duo started to produce a new style of music combining traditional orchestras with new electronic sounds. They wrote the score for a number of movies, climaxing with The Last Emperor in 1987, which won an Oscar for Best Original Score. The following year, Zimmer was hired to write the score for Rain Man. The movie went on to win four Oscars, with a nomination for Zimmer. A year later, another film for which he wrote a score won Best Picture. For his next film, Zimmer flew to Africa to record traditional African choirs, and this led him to be hired for The Lion King. (Which he says he agreed to do to impress his then-six year old daughter.) The immensely popular music that Zimmer wrote for The Lion King won him two Grammys, a Golden Globe, and an Oscar. The Broadway adaptation won a Tony Award, and set a record for being the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time. Zimmer went on to write hit music for many more films, including The Prince of Egypt, The Thin Red Line, The Rock, Gladiator, Pearl Harbor, The Last Samurai, Iron Man, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. All in all, he has 1 win and 11 nominations for Oscars, 4 Grammys, 2 Golden Globes, 3 Saturn Awards, and many more. He has written scores for over 150 films, and made music for 17 television shows and 2 video games. Zimmer has been ranked among the “Top 100 Living Geniuses” and is considered one of the greatest film composers and musicians of all time. Zimmer has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and an asteroid is named after him. His latest work is the score for the new live adaptation of The Lion King, which opens in theatres this Friday.

The Kabbalah of Kippah

Words of the Week

With science, there are unknowns, but there are also these rituals for finding the answers… It’s the same thing with Judaism. I think that’s why we have so many Jewish scientists. It’s easy to go from ‘I am trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe and these are my rituals for doing it,’ to ‘I’m trying to figure out the mysteries of the universe and these are my rituals for doing it.’ It’s the same thing, but just different rituals.
– Neuroscientist Julia Mossbridge

Jews of the Week: Recha Freier & Ruchie Freier

Two Trailblazing Women

Ruchie Freier

Rachel “Ruchie” Freier (b. 1965) was born in Brooklyn to a Hasidic Jewish family. In high school, she took a course in stenography and went on to work as a legal secretary. She soon became a paralegal, and was her family’s breadwinner, supporting her husband’s full-time religious studies. At 30, she realized she was working under lawyers that were younger and less knowledgeable than she was, and made the decision to go to law school herself. Juggling school, work, and raising six kids, it took Freier ten years to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and a law degree. She passed the bar in 2006, becoming America’s first Hasidic female lawyer. Meanwhile, Freier was heavily involved in community work, and spent time as an advocate for New York’s oft-misunderstood Hasidic Jews. In 2005, she set up a charity called Chasdei Devorah to support poor Jewish families, and in 2008 co-founded B’Derech to help troubled teens. In 2016, she was elected Civil Court Judge after a tough race. That made her the world’s first female Hasidic judge. Freier also serves on New York’s Criminal Court. Amazingly, she is a licensed paramedic, too, and works with Ezras Nashim, an all-female volunteer ambulance service (a branch of the more famous, all-male Hatzalah). The New York Times has appropriately called her a “Hasidic superwoman”. Freier has won multiple awards, and was recently ranked by the Jerusalem Post among the 50 Most Influential Jews in the World.

Recha Freier

Ruchie Freier is not to be confused with Recha Freier (1892-1984), also born to a devoutly Orthodox family, in Germany. Recha Freier experienced tremendous anti-Semitism in her youth, and this inspired her to become a Zionist. Her husband was a rabbi in Berlin, while she taught in a high school and spent the rest of her time writing. In 1932, Freier was asked to help five young men who could not get jobs because they were Jewish. Freier had the idea to send the boys to the Holy Land instead to learn farming. She raised the necessary funds and organized their voyage and settlement. Thus was born what would become the Youth Aliyah. The organization would go on to save 7000 young Jews from Nazi Germany and settle them in Israel. Freier coordinated with (former Jew of the WeekHenrietta Szold to make sure the teens were taken care of in their new home. Freier herself escaped Germany in 1940 by crossing the border to Yugoslavia. There, she saved 150 Jewish orphans. All made it safely to Israel in 1941. Two years later, Freier established the Agricultural Training Center to educate impoverished children. She was also an avid musician and pianist, and in 1958 founded the Israel Composer’s Fund. In addition to composing a number of original musical pieces, Freier wrote works of poetry and Jewish folklore. In 1981, she was awarded the Israel Prize for her contributions, the State’s highest honour.

Words of the Week

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.
– Bruce Lee

Jews of the Week: Matvei Blanter and Solomon Mikhoels

Matvei Isaakovich Blanter (1903-1990) was born in the Russian Empire in a small Ukrainian town. He studied music and became a master pianist and violinist. In the 1920s, Blanter became popular for his dance and jazz songs. After the rise of Stalin, he was “recruited” to write propaganda pieces and composed some of the Soviet Union’s greatest hits. In 1938, he wrote the music for the internationally-acclaimed song “Katyusha”, by far the most well-known Russian tune in the world. (Click here to listen.) It was so popular that it lent its name to one of Russia’s most famous military weapons: the Katyusha rocket. A recent poll found that it is still the 13th most listened to song in Russia. Also in 1938, Blanter wrote “The Football March”, which would be played before every Russian soccer game – and still is today! All in all, Blanter composed over 200 songs. He was awarded the Stalin Prize and the People’s Artist of the USSR. In the last days of World War II, Stalin sent Blanter to Berlin to compose a victory symphony. He wound up with the Russian general right when a German delegation came to sue for a peace treaty. Blanter was quickly shoved into a tiny closet while the generals negotiated. Running out of air, he passed out and fell out of the closet, embarrassing everyone in the room. Some say this is the origin of the expression to “come out of the closet”.

Mikhoels with Albert Einstein, during his 1943 fundraising tour

Blanter’s uncle was Shlomo Mikhoels (1890-1948). Born in Latvia to a religious Jewish family, he studied law in St. Petersburg before joining a Jewish theatre group. In 1920, Mikhoels co-founded the first Jewish acting studio in Moscow, putting on plays in Yiddish. Lenin soon turned it into the official State Jewish Theatre. By 1928, Mikhoels had become the theatre’s director, as well as its most famous actor. People came from around the world to see his legendary performances. One New York Times reviewer wrote that Mikhoels had put on “one of the most stirring performances of my theatre-going career.” His 1935 role as King Lear (in Yiddish) drew another critic to write: “I do not recall a performance that stirred me as profoundly, to the core, as Mikhoels’ performance of Lear.” Mikhoels had become one of the world’s best Shakespearean actors. He also played Rabbi Alter in Mazel-Tov, and Tevye in the Russian version of Fiddler on the Roof, among many other roles. In 1942, Mikhoels was made chairman of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, and sent around the world to draw support from his fellow Jews for the Soviet war effort against the Nazis. This made him the first official Soviet representative to make such a trip, and he successfully raised millions. However, after the war ended Stalin became increasingly paranoid, and soon began another round of his purges, particularly of Jewish intellectuals. In 1948, he ordered Mikhoels assassinated, and made it look like a car accident. Nonetheless, Mikhoels was given a state funeral. Today, he is recognized as an important artist and pioneer of Russian theatre, and one of Moscow’s main cultural centres is named after him.

Words of the Week

He who has many friends has no friends.
– Aristotle